The bar at the Tribeca Grand is humming with hipsters and the promise of a short New York spring. Inside, Baron Ziegler waits for a glass of wine to arrive. The music of The Killers mingles with the murmurs of all those looking to party on a Monday.
“The drummer of The Killers lives like three blocks away from our tasting room. The speakers we have in there, he gave them to us. We threw a huge rager and we blew out the speakers at like 1 in the morning… and he was there.” He laughs.
Even though he sounds like one, Baron is neither a rockstar nor an actual baron… though some would say he’s close. He’s the co-founder of Banshee Wines, one of the few wineries that decided to do their own thing when conformism was trending in California. Though Baron now spends most of his time basking in the glow of the sunny north coast, he started off somewhere much, much colder.
“I was born in Duluth, Minnesota, statistically the second coldest city in the United States. It was a tundra-” he stops for a second. “Can I curse? Yeah. It was a fucking tundra.” He lets slip with satisfaction. “Four feet snowbanks all year ‘round. So, it’s not serious wine country.” He laughs.
But, it was in the tundras of Minnesota that Baron’s unexpected love of wine began to thaw, thanks to his wine collector of a stepfather.
“He started me off when I was 14 years old. I literally went straight from collecting and selling baseball cards to buying Bordeaux futures.” Drinks arrive and a cheers occurs.
“I didn’t even like wine when I was 14,” he says after a sip. “I just liked the idea of wine, the culture, the history and the connection to agriculture. Buying Bordeaux forced me into this way of thinking where wine was always going to be a part of my life.” Needless to say, he soon developed a strong taste for the stuff.
Eventually, Baron and his Bordeaux escaped Duluth to Boston. There, he snuck his way into a job at a wine shop despite being three or four years below the legal drinking age.
“I walked into this wine store for a tasting. I started chatting Bordeaux, and I really knew my shit so nobody carded me. We sat there and talked wine for about 30 minutes, and at the end of the conversation I said ‘hey, can I get a job?’” He got the job.
After some time as a clandestine teenage wine salesman, Baron decided to drop out of med school and “take a year” to explore wine. He never went back. What he did do was travel the world and establish himself as one of the coolest wine buyers, sellers and all-around “wine dudes” ever.
Eventually, he decided (like most people who want to be happy) to leave the Northeast and settle in San Francisco with his wife. There, he had “an amazing romantic affair with the great state that is California” and decided he had no choice but to start a winery of his own.
In 2010, Banshee was born in the form of six beautiful barrels of Pinot Noir. It sold real quick, as did the barrel after that and the barrels after those. Today, Banshee crafts about 12,000 cases of wine a year. They have no trouble finding bellies for the wines. Why? Because Baron and his Banshee crew decided to do something different: whatever they wanted.
“Eight years ago, I didn’t drink California wine.” Baron admits. “The biggest problem with California is homogenization of flavor… everybody searching for scores and for somebody else’s approval.”
“I’d say in the last eight years, there’s been a huge movement away from doing what the critics want.” He begins to speak faster. “It’s a movement towards making wine for a place, for a climate and making wine that wine drinkers like to drink.”
“We don’t overthink things, we don’t have a target market, we do what we think is cool, and hope that if it’s cool people will like it.” The good news for Baron and Banshee is that people really do like it.
After all, these are wines that refuse to chase trends. They don’t bat eyes at critics and cater to the fads and fashions of the wine world. These are wines made with love. And most of all, they’re designed for the true drinkers: the porch sippers, the pairing inventors and the boy who gave up baseball cards for Bordeaux.